"Black and white", a major feature of Africa, is bounded by the Great Sahara Desert. The north is basically Arab countries, belonging to the white race, believing in Islam and speaking Arabic. The south, on the other hand, is predominantly black, and the language also belongs mainly to the Bantu family (except for the colonial element of Afrikaans).
In the black world of southern Africa, only Madagascar is an exception. With a land area of 587,000 square kilometers and a population of 28.4 million, Madagascar is not a small country in every respect.
▲ Neither the Malagasy language nor the languages of the African continent are the same
Although the island of Madagascar is only 400 kilometers from the African continent, the "African identity" is not obvious and does not belong to any "black and white" side.
▲ Madagascar is 400 km from the African continent and 6000 km from Southeast Asia
Outsiders can sense that people here look more yellow, including the current president, Andry Rajoelina. The Malagasy language is not related to the Bantu language family of black Africans, but belongs to the South Island language family, which is similar to the Southeast Asian region. However, the island of Madagascar is more than 6,000 kilometers away from Southeast Asia.
▲Madagascar's current president looks like an Asian
In addition, the main religion on Madagascar is traditional and does not belong to the two camps on the African continent, which are dominated by Christianity and Islam.
If this is the case, why is Madagascar the only African country (excluding the small island states in the Indian Ocean) that does not have an "African identity"?
▲ Half of Madagascar's religions are traditional and not very consistent with the African continent
A. Early breakup
According to official Malagasy statistics, the country can be subdivided into 18 ethnic groups, the largest being the Merinas (26%), followed by the Bezimisaracas (14.9%), and the Tsimikheti and Sakarawa, each with 6%. There are also some Chinese, Indians, etc.
Although the second, third and fourth largest of the first four major ethnic groups all belong to the black race in Africa, the first major ethnic group in Madagascar, the Merinas, are yellow and speak a language that belongs to the South Island language family.
Although they make up only a quarter of the country's total population, the Merinas have long been the ruling ethnic group in Madagascar, with the Merina language forming the core of Malagasy, the island's lingua franca.
The island of Madagascar was separated from the African continent as early as 88 million years ago, before humans set foot on the island. Since then, Madagascar has evolved independently, and 95% of the island's flora and fauna, like lemurs and baobabs, are the only ones in the world.
▲95% of Madagascar's flora and fauna are unique to the island
More than 2,000 years ago, the first humans finally landed on the island of Madagascar, and they came from across the distant Indian Ocean, not from the near-by continent of Africa. These yellow people, later called "Polynesians," originated in the Indonesian archipelago of Southeast Asia.
▲South Island Language Group
Living in an archipelagic environment, these Polynesians were very adept at navigation and mastered primitive constellation navigation techniques very early on.
They ran to the sea without rebellion and afterwards, passing through one island after another and eventually crossing two oceans with the help of monsoon or ocean currents.
▲Polynesians came to Madagascar by the South Equatorial Warm Current
To the east, they reached all the way to the west coast of the American continent, while to the west, with the help of the South Equatorial Warm Current, from the Indonesian archipelago, across the entire Indian Ocean, the apex of which is precisely the island of Madagascar.
Polynesians are spread over countless islands in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, spanning a total of almost 26,000 kilometers from east to west, equivalent to about two-thirds of the length of the equator.
▲The South Island language family is extremely widespread, spreading across the Pacific and Indian Oceans
After a long period of evolution, they gradually divided into many subdivisions, and the modern Tongans, Maoris, Hawaiians, etc. are all descendants of Polynesians or fused with the native peoples of the region. Although the languages of their descendants have diverged, they are all part of the South Island language family.
When the Polynesians set foot on the island of Madagascar, across the sea to the east of the African continent, the main inhabitants were the Khoisan, who belonged to the black population and lived by gathering and hunting, without navigation skills, let alone knowing that there was such a large island on the opposite side of the sea.
▲Modern Malagasy people are predominantly black and yellow mestizos
The island of Madagascar has a hot and rainy tropical climate, especially the eastern coast is low-lying and vulnerable to the ravages of tropical cyclones, while the central plateau is at an altitude of 1000m-2500m and has a cooler climate, so Polynesians live mainly in the central plateau.
▲The population is mainly concentrated in the central plateau with cool climate
Around the 2nd century A.D., another group of Polynesians came to the island of Madagascar in the same way, joining the first clansmen and bringing with them not only the cultivation of their homeland, but also their own religious beliefs.
▲At least two groups of Polynesians landed on Madagascar in ancient times
At about the same time, the Bantu, who originated in the lower Congo River region of East Africa, began to migrate throughout Africa, constituting the major ethnic group of modern southern Africa. They soon arrived on the coast across the island of Madagascar, where the original inhabitants, the Khoisan, were forced to retreat into the arid and barren landscape.
Although the Bantu people had mastered pottery and iron smelting technologies and emerged as an early regime at that time, their navigational skills were equally backward and they were not capable of making their way to the island of Madagascar. The yellow Polynesians remained the masters of the island of Madagascar.
▲ Distribution of Bantu Languages in Africa
Second, Asian love affair
The Arabs rose to prominence after the 7th century. In addition to their expansion on land, the Arabs were also very good at sailing and trading, and their merchant ships departed from the Arabian Peninsula, first landing in East Africa, then extending south along the coastline and finally reaching Madagascar, bringing with them Islam.
The arrival of the Arabs enabled the Bantu people of the African coast to master navigation and to learn of the existence of the large island of Madagascar. As a result, the Bantu began migrating to the island, culminating around the 10th century.
The Zulus, who defeated the British colonial army, are also a Bantu people.
These activities have not changed the ethnic pattern of the island, and the Polynesians, who have been reproducing for a long time, have become the majority of the population and call themselves "Merinas".
The closer to the coast the Merinas gradually integrated with the Bantu, the Arabs, and a few Indian and Persian peoples, and the closer inland the Merinas became, the purer their origin and the more pronounced their yellow characteristics.
The Merinas established their kingdom in the 14th century, occupying most of the central plateau of the island of Madagascar, with a well-established rice cultivation industry and a capital at Antananarivo in the center of the island.
Most of the blacks from the African continent settled on the eastern coast, and the Zimisaracas, Zimikheti, etc. also established their own kingdoms, which were much weaker than the Merina kingdom.
▲ At the beginning of the Great Navigational Movement, Europeans occupied only some coastal islands of Madagascar
Located on the west coast of the Indian Ocean and the east coast of the African continent, the island of Madagascar easily attracted the attention of navigators. Arab merchants first used this island as a transit point for Asian and African trade, and after the 14th century, both Asian and European navigation technology entered a period of rapid development, with more and more ships in the Indian Ocean.
From 1405 to 1433, Zheng He made seven trips to the West during the Ming Dynasty, and Chinese history books record that he reached as far as Kenya in East Africa. According to modern analysis, some of Zheng He's fleet sailed to the island of Madagascar and traded with its inhabitants.
About 80 years later, the Portuguese, the pioneers of the great European maritime movement, arrived on the island of Madagascar, once mistakenly thought by the locals to be a Ming Dynasty fleet.
The modern view is that the actual arrival of Zheng He's fleet exceeded the historical records.
The Europeans originally called the islanders "Malgacheans", hence the name "Madagascar". Early European colonists preferred to control smaller islands with smaller areas and populations to reduce colonization costs, and for more than three hundred years, from the 15th to the 18th centuries, they mainly spread Christianity and European civilization to the islanders.
The French occupied the island of Mauritius, 800 km east of Madagascar, as early as 1715, but did not continue their advance into Madagascar. Because the island possessed a large area and population size that intimidated the colonists, only a few small coastal islands were used by the Europeans as trading posts.
▲Early blacks lived mainly in the eastern coast of the island
European colonization of sub-Saharan Africa did not go well, with the hot, humid climate and unique plagues preventing European colonization until the early 19th century, when colonies covered only one-tenth of Africa and were mostly located in coastal areas or islands.
Using this period of relative peace, the kingdom of Merina defeated those small black kingdoms on the coast, unified the entire island, and established diplomatic relations with European countries.
In 1817, a peace treaty was signed with Britain, and a lot of European culture and technology were introduced, especially important was the creation of the Malagasy script based on the Roman alphabet, and the Malagasy nation began to take shape.
Third, the seam survival
In addition to the coastal islands, the Europeans began to expand into the coastal areas of Madagascar, establishing a number of ports and cities, with the actual rule of the Kingdom of Merina in the central highlands, trying not to come into conflict with the European colonists.
Throughout the 19th century, the kingdom of Merina was making itself more European, building the capital Antananarivo as the largest city, implementing compulsory education, hiring the British to train a European-style army, making laws based on the British, and even making Christianity the state religion in 1869.
▲The successive Merina kings paid attention to the interaction with Europe
The number of black people on the island of Madagascar continued to increase, and in addition to the migration of Bantu people from the southern coast of Africa on their own boats, the black slave trade was also a very important factor, and the island of Madagascar was one of the main transit points for the black slave trade in the Indian Ocean.
Madagascar's good relations with Britain drew the jealousy of the French, the two most important rivals in the global colonial system. The French tried to capture Madagascar several times and were defeated by the Kingdom of Merina, which received help from Britain.
▲Madagascar began to provide universal education from the early 19th century
In the late 19th century, Britain, France, Germany and other European countries have completed the second industrial revolution, military science and technology soared, completely opened up the military power gap between the powers and the Asian and African countries, Madagascar's huge volume of protection role was seriously weakened.
In 1883, while the British were busy colonizing southern Africa, the French invaded Madagascar in force and the Kingdom of Merina resisted resolutely with a European-style army. It took the French 13 years to conquer the kingdom of Merina and colonize Madagascar.
The European countries did not complete all the preparations for colonizing Africa until the end of the 19th century
The French then opened plantations on a large scale and brought in black slave labor from Africa, causing the number of blacks on the island to increase dramatically. 500,000 black slaves remained on the island after France declared the abolition of slavery in Madagascar in 1896, performing their former jobs as free men.
In the following decades, intermarriage between Merinas and blacks became increasingly common, especially along the coast, with fewer and fewer purebred Merinas living mostly inland, centered on the capital Antananarivo.
▲ Blacks came to Madagascar mainly as plantation laborers
Since the Merinas have formed a unified nation since early on, and are the previous owners of the island, they have their own religious beliefs and customs, while the blacks, although mostly Bantu, came to the island mostly as slaves, from different sources and at different times, lacking the necessary identity to form a united force, and can only be under the rule of the Merinas.
At the end of the 19th century, Europeans referred to the islanders collectively as Malagasy, and Merina, the predominant local language, was also called Malagasy, joining a large number of words including Bantu, European, Arab, etc., still belonging to the South Island language family.
▲Chinese workers were hired to build the railroad here in the late Qing Dynasty
Although Malagasy resistance to the colonizers never ceased, objectively speaking, the French colonizers made Madagascar more modern, the cities more prosperous, more ports, roads and railroads appeared, and French became the official language.
French colonists recruited laborers from the Qing Dynasty to Madagascar to do hard work such as construction and road building. After the contract expired, some Chinese workers chose to stay on the island to make a living and develop, slowly forming a local Chinese population.
IV. Towards independence
As a French colony, Madagascar fought in two world wars, developed a sense of national independence, and was promised that it could become independent after the war. However, France was slow to fulfill this promise after its victory in World War II.
On June 26, 1960, Madagascar was officially separated from the French Community and became an independent country with full sovereignty.
▲Free French army dominated by soldiers from African colonies
The capital after independence remains Antananarivo, which can be considered a kind of succession to the Merina Kingdom. The Merinas, as the historical ruling people, were also in a dominant position in the independence movement, holding more senior positions in the new government, and several presidents had Merinas.
The new government has made the Merina-based Madagascar language the official language, along with French. However, the traditionally black-dominated coastal areas, where French is predominantly spoken, are somewhat resistant to the Malagasy language, preferring to highlight their black identity.
▲Madagascar national day ceremony with a strong French style
Post-independence Madagascar was unstable, with a succession of colonial legacies, ideological changes, and corruption that led to numerous political crises until a new constitution was adopted in 2010 and a new president was elected in 2014.
Decades of political turmoil, combined with a predominantly agricultural economy and a lack of mineral resources, have left Madagascar in a state of poverty, with a GDP per capita of only $454 (2020), making it one of the least developed countries in Africa.
V. Asian-African mix
According to modern genetic analysis, Malagasy people are mainly a mixture of Polynesian and Bantu genes, and black and yellow mixing is common. The proportion of black genes is still increasing with the increasing number of black immigrants.
Relatively speaking, the closer to the inland areas, the higher the proportion of yellow genes, in line with the Merina Kingdom's ruling center in the interior.
Many of Madagascar's political dignitaries, including current President Andry Rajoelina, as well as some of its ambassadors abroad, are distinctly yellow, leading many in the outside world to believe that the country is a yellow Asian country.
▲Madagascar's architectural style is similar to Southeast Asia
Despite decades of colonization, the Malagasy people are strongly autochthonous, with the official languages being Malagasy and French, and the predominant religion being the local traditional religion, which makes up half of the population. This is followed by Christianity, which was brought and practiced by the colonizers, with Islam and Hinduism being relatively less influential.
Today, there are more than 50,000 people of Chinese origin and Chinese ancestry on the island of Madagascar, basically the descendants of Chinese workers back then.
Madagascar is much like an enclave of Southeast Asian civilization in Africa, 6,000 kilometers away from Southeast Asia, yet their ancestors were mainly ancient Polynesians from Southeast Asia, the westernmost point covered by the South Island language family. Walking in the streets of Antananarivo, the capital, you can often encounter locals who look very close to the yellow people of Southeast Asia.
▲Melina people look more similar to Southeast Asia
Not only that, the Malagasy architecture style is closer to Southeast Asia, but also very good at agriculture, farming techniques and many crops are also brought from Southeast Asia.
When one sees the terraced fields that cover the hills of the island, it is like being in Southeast Asia, which is very different from the primitive appearance of the African continent. No wonder it is considered the least "African" country in Africa.
▲Hillside terraces prove that the Merinas are descendants of Asian farming civilization